Blog 12


The Following blog post has been written by our guest contributor, Suva Chattopadhyay.

Pre-call planning, triggers three primary thoughts in my mind

  • An overused word in the sales training sessions
  • Less talked about in the sales meetings
  • An occasional behavior in the field but often unnoticed even when followed

My thoughts tell me that it is not something that gets a lot of importance. So why even talk and read about this. Why should I imbibe (if I may use this word!) this behavior? Something in my head says “Belief change drives behavior change”.

Let me put forward some hard data/facts:

A very recent HBR article (A portrait of the over performing sales person by Steve W. Martin, June 20, 2016) studied high performing sales people (Yearly achievement >125%). One of the important reasons that they have identified for success –

“The top sales professionals ranked five different sales strategies based on their effectiveness. The top-ranked strategies were “Getting customers to emotionally connect with you” followed by “Tailoring your sales pitch to the customer’s needs” and then “Asking questions that show your expertise.”

Surprisingly the highlighted actions are exactly what a Medical Sales Representative (MR) does when s/he does pre-call planning (we will come to the definition in a bit)

Around seven years back in one of the companies where I was dealing with SFE and Sales Capability, we did a small research with about 120 MRs with a 50:50 split of high performers and average performers. We shadowed them for five consecutive days and measured occurrence of few sales enabling behaviors (hypothetical) and one of them was pre-call planning. The result was quite interesting:

  • The high performer group did Pre-call planning in at least 8 out of 12 calls per day
  • The average performer group did Pre-call planning in fewer than 4 calls out of 12 calls per day

So pre-call planning works and more importantly has a correlation with high performance. Is this enough to change belief?

What is pre-call planning?

Pre-call planning is a virtual walkthrough of the call that the MR is going to make. Here are a few aspects for a MR to think through in the pre-call planning phase:

  • What is s/he going to do in the call?
  • Structuring the communication
    • How will s/he start the call?
    • What questions might the doctor ask and what can be the answer?
    • How to end the call?
  • Activity planning
    • Any literature to be discussed? Have a look at it – a last minute recap. Keep it in a place where it can be pulled out without looking at it (well, in a good call “small things are the big things”)
    • Any campaign to execute? If so, quickly walk through it
    • Any trial packs to be given? Ensure it’s in the upper part of the working bag and easy to get to.
  • When there is an accompanying manager
    • Establish role clarity – who will speak/do what?
    • The virtual walkthrough can happen as a discussion, initiated by the manager

Why pre-call planning?

We have spoken about the outcome part; it improves performance. Now let us have a look how it can improve the sales process:
– It helps in better utilization of 3 minutes that an MR gets inside the doctor clinic by doing meticulous planning
– It helps in having an objective discussion with the doctor
– For the line manager it gives a chance of a quick coaching conversation with the MR

Challenges and the role of the line manager

Most part of the pre-call planning is virtual and not an activity. It is a habit, which is not completely possible to define in terms of actions. It is a 2 minute pause before the MR enters the clinic where s/he takes a virtual walk on how the call will be, followed by an activity of keeping the required things handy inside the bag. The second challenge is – it can’t be captured in the Sales Force Automation system that is used by the MR. This is where the line manager role becomes important. Typically a line manager works with an MR 4-5 days/month. The line manager can engage into a pre-call planning conversation before every single call s/he makes. Some sample questions that can be used are:

  • What are we going to do in this call?
  • How do you plan to open the call?
  • What do you want me to do in this call?
  • Can you quickly tell me which parts of the trial report we are going to discuss?
  • What are the key points of the trial report that we are going to discuss

This will build a habit and if the line manger is able to demonstrate how it helps improve the quality of the call, there is a greater chance that the MR will do it even when s/he is working alone.

Additional Ideas

Here are a few ideas (disruptive?) to drive pre-call planning:

  • Capture pre-call planning in the automation tool used by the line managers
  • Typically line managers take a late evening update about the day’s work. Mostly the discussion happens around outcomes. Can we add a simple mandatory question in the discussion – “Out of X calls that you made today, in how many calls did you do pre-call planning?”
  • Start publishing correlation report of % calls made with pre-call planning and target achievement or new product sales
  • In the SFA system send reminders of pre-call planning
  • Create 2 minute videos of pre-call planning and make it available in the SFA handheld.
  • Let Pre-call planning be a standard module in all line manager review meetings

Essentially, pre-call planning shows potential as a great sales enabling behavior that would help MRs achieve greater sales performance. Making this a steady habit can help the organization achieve more sales efficiency and help MRs improve their incentive earnings.

Have something to add to this post. Please share it in comments!

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